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On their Heels: Washington State aiming to upset national power North Carolina in College Cup Final Four

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 5, 2019

One of women’s soccer’s most iconic figures – 1999 World Cup hero Brandi Chastain – attended Washington State’s practice in San Jose, California, on Wednesday before conversing with a few crimson-clad players and coaches.

Cougars standout Morgan Weaver playfully disrupted a picture of her coach Todd Shulenberger with ESPN soccer analyst and former Team USA star Julie Foudy.

When WSU arrived in Silicon Valley following a send-off party in Pullman, it was gifted with backpacks sporting a logo that marked the program’s greatest accomplishment: 2019 College Cup.

It’s been a fun, celebratory five days for the Cougars since they punched their ticket to college soccer’s Final Four, the deepest NCAA Tournament run in modern WSU athletics history.

Now WSU turns its focus to the most storied program in NCAA women’s soccer history.

The Cougars (16-6-1) face 21-time national champion and top-seeded North Carolina (23-1-1) on Friday in a 4 p.m. game at Avaya Stadium for a trip to Sunday’s title game.

Pac-12 rivals Stanford (22-1) and UCLA (18-4-1) face off at 6:30 p.m. in the other semifinal.

One of these four teams is not like the others.

UNC has qualified for all 37 NCAA Tournaments and is widely considered one of college sports’ all-time great programs.

UCLA has 10 College Cup appearances and a 2013 national title.

Top-ranked Stanford has nine College Cup appearances and two national titles, including a 2017 championship win over UCLA

Up until last weekend, WSU had never advanced past the Sweet 16.

The Cougars recently finished sixth in the Pac-12 before earning their eighth NCAA Tournament berth in nine years, beating 14th-ranked Memphis (1-0), top-seeded and No. 3 Virginia (3-2), West Virginia (3-0) and No. 2 seed South Carolina (1-0) to get to the semifinals.

WSU beat their region’s two favorites –Virginia and South Carolina – on their respective home fields.

They’re aiming to deliver another unlikely upset.

“I like being the underdog,” said Weaver, who ranks second all time at WSU in goals (42). “Keep saying it.”

Most pundits are.

UNC, the 2018 national runner-up, features three standouts – Emily Fox, Brianna Pinto and Alessia Russo – who are finalists for the Mac Hermann Trophy, which is given to the country’s top player.

The Tar Heels opened the NCAA Tournament with a rout of Belmont (5-0) before beating Colorado (1-0), Michigan (4-0) and Southern California (3-2).

UNC also beat Washington (3-2) in September, going 3-0 against Pac-12 teams.

“They’re one of the top teams in the country,” Shulenberger said. “They’re probably going to start three in the back. They’re athletic, and you have to survive that first wave for the first 20 to 25 minutes before they sub players in.”

UNC also needed overtime to beat Virginia, an ACC rival the Tar Heels clipped 3-2 in the regular season.

The Cougars’ upset of the Cavaliers got the attention of 41-year UNC coach Anson Dorrance.

“They basically blew up the bracket,” Dorrance said of WSU’s road upsets of Virginia and South Carolina.

He likes the offensive style of the assertive Cougars, who’ve also been a defensive force, allowing 1.03 goals a game and posting 10 shutouts.

“They hunt. We’re not going to be comfortable playing around the back, because they’re hunters,” Dorrance said. “And when WSU goes, they go to goal. They don’t pass around the back for a half-hour to pump up their positional statistics.

“They understand how the game is – you go forward, stuff the ball in the back of the net, and they’re very good at it.”

Weaver, graduate transfer Averie Collins, sixth-year senior goalie Ella Dederick (70 saves), junior Brianna Alger (10 assists) and freshman MacKenzie Frimpong-Ellertson have paced the Cougars all season, each earning All-Pac-12 accolades.

Former Lake City star and defender Bridget Rieken – WSU’s only local product – has also registered substantial playing time as a true freshman, averaging 72 minutes a game.

Weaver named All-American

Weaver was named a third-team All-American by the United Soccer Coaches on Thursday.

The senior forward is the second All-American in program history, joining Micaela Castain, who was awarded the honor in 2013.

Weaver has scored 43 goals and has 96 total points in her career with the Cougars.

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